Accepting the inevitable in Pulp: A film about Life, Death & Supermarkets

Accepting the inevitable in Pulp: A film about Life, Death & Supermarkets

Florian Habicht’s film about the pop group Pulp, and their charismatic front-man and lyricist Jarvis Cocker, should appeal to middle-aged and older music fans who remember the Sheffield band from their humble beginnings in the 1970s.

Audiences born in the late 60’s and 70’s will remember the band’s heyday from 1992-1996 after they moved to London. The interviewees in this entertaining, but less-than-revealing documentary range from Terry, a septuagenarian local news agent to a young nurse who travelled from Georgia, USA to attend Pulp’s one-off 2013 concert in their home town of Sheffield.

Habicht’s film is heavy on hero-worshipping talking heads and a bit too light on substance and music. Snippets from the band, who still include Candida Doyle on Keyboards, Mark Webber (keyboards, guitar), Steve Mackey on bass, Nick Banks on drums and Cocker himself tell us nothing new. That said, Mark Webber admits he takes public transportation and is seldom recognised. It’s clear that Cocker is the man who longed for and battled with fame.

The film is light on the 2001 break-up, Cocker’s drug addiction, quest for fame and reaction to it (although the resulting album, Hardcore is discussed), his years in France, the break-up of his relationship there, or parenthood. While Cocker does discuss his songs, the concert footage is largely limited to a long, and quite fabulous, live performance of Common People, that leaves you longing for more.

The documentary feels like it is building up to the December 8, 2013 concert in Sheffield, wrapping up a world tour, which makes it someone anticlimactic. A young fan tells us that ‘Jarvis Cocker must be about 50 and he’s gonna put on a show better than people half of his age,’ but we don’t see enough evidence of this despite the capacity crowd of 13,500 screaming fans.

As this quote from a fan suggests, what does emerge from the film is the theme of ageing. Cocker is very much aware that, at 50, he is competing, in some ways, with bands less than half his age.  The band’s lively tour manager, Liam Ripper must be 70. The concert in Sheffield depended on whether Candida Doyle could still play the keyboards as she suffers from crippling arthritis and had not played in a while.

Although Cocker does not discuss the band’s annus horribilis, 1996 was the year when band member Russell Senior quit and Cocker was at a low point in his creativity and troubled personal life. The only song they had ready for a new album was Help the Aged which, in the film, is affectively sung by a choir of seniors in a café.

Cocker, who earlier in the film talks about his formative years in Sheffield, says he wrote the song because ‘getting old is what happens’ and ‘nothing lasts forever.’ He goes on, ‘I tried to imagine what it would be like when my generation were pensioners…There’s only one way that road is leading. I accept that it’s inevitable.’

Joyce Glasser – MT film reviewer